MIAMI — Joakim Noah might not have offered the most politically correct word. But the Miami Heat get what he’s saying.
“It’s going to be a war,’’ the Chicago Bulls center said about the Eastern Conference semifinal with the Heat that gets underway Monday at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Nobody on the Heat denies it will be a physical series. The teams exchanged elbows and other body parts while splitting four rugged regular-season games.
The challenge Sunday at Heat practice was to find synonyms for the word used by Noah.
“I’m not going to use (that word). A basketball battle it will be,’’ said guard Dwyane Wade, expected to play Monday after having a week to heal following missing the Heat’s previous game because of a sore knee.
“I don’t want to elaborate on his words,’’ center Chris Bosh said. “But that’s how it’s going to be. We know they’re going to bring it, and we know the passion and the play that (Noah is) going to bring and we’re going to be ready for it. If a war starts on our terms, on our floor, we have to make sure we take advantage of it.’’
The Bulls, who earned the right to face the Heat with a 99-93 win at Brooklyn on Saturday in Game 7 of a first-round series, were one of just three teams to beat the Heat at least twice during the regular season. They won 96-89 Jan. 4 at Miami while winning the battle of the boards 48-28. And they stopped the Heat’s 27-game winning streak, the second-longest in NBA history, with a 101-97 win at Chicago on March 27.
Their second win was notable for Heat forward LeBron James complaining afterward about hard fouls by the Bulls that were “not basketball plays.’’ So it’s understandable James is braced for whatever might happen in this series.
“I expect a very physical series, so I’m looking forward to it,’’ said James, excited to step on the court for the first time since the Heat wrapped up a 4-0 first-round sweep of Milwaukee on April 28. “I’m getting my mind ready, so it should be fun.’’
It wasn’t too fun for James when the teams last played in Chicago. The Heat did get some revenge by winning the regular-season finale between the teams 105-93 April 14 in Miami.
But nothing really was at stake in that game. Now, there is plenty.
“We all know what this is about,’’ said Heat forward Shane Battier. “It’s going to be about elbows and (butts). It’s going to be hard fought. It’s going to be physical. It’s going to be emotional. And I think it’s going to be well played.’’
The Bulls didn’t exactly advance out of the first round due to artistic play. They slugged it out with the Nets while being undermanned.
Chicago all season has been without guard Derrick Rose, who is recovering from a torn ACL and is highly unlikely to return during the playoffs. The Bulls won Game 7 Saturday without forward Luol Deng (illness) and guard Kirk Hinrich (bruised calf), and Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau wouldn’t speculate afterward if either would play Monday. Also, Noah has been bothered by a painful foot injury that kept him out of 12 of the final 15 regular-season games and has limited at times his playoff minutes.
“We’re prepared for their guys that are in uniform,’’ James said. “We don’t know (who will play). We’re just in the shadows like everybody else, knowing if Luol is going to play or Kirk or D-Rose. I think we’re going to prepare for all those guys.’’
It’s the seventh time the Bulls and Heat have met in the playoffs, with Chicago having won four of the previous six meetings. The last time they got together, the Bulls were the conference’s No. 1 seed and Miami was No. 2, but the Heat won 4-1 in the 2011 East final.
“Heat-Bulls,’’ Bosh said. “That is enough to get your minds going and have some passion for the series.’’
There has been plenty of that in the rivalry even if the Heat (66-16) won 21 more games this season than the injury-plagued Bulls (45-37), who slipped to the No. 5 seed in the East after being No. 1 the previous two years.
The setback in January was just one of four home losses during the season for Miami. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said his team got “pounded’’ on the glass, but that problem was helped when the team signed free-agent center Chris Andersen later in January.
“There won’t be a lot behind the curtain for either team,’’ Spoelstra said. “(The teams) know each other. It will (come down) to a lot of those effort areas. Both teams will be very prepared, but when the ball is on the floor and the ball is up in the air, who’s winning those battles?’’
Spoelstra also prefers the “battle” word. When asked about Noah calling it a ‘war,’’ he said “some people will probably take that the wrong way.’’
Whatever you want to call it, this is a playoff match-up that shouldn’t lack passion.